If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

-George Herbert

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Atmospheric Passage from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

I'm working my way slowly through Dostoyevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment, and I came today across this striking passage:

Following his old habit, and taking the customary route of his previous walks, he set off straight for the Haymarket. Some distance before he got there, in the roadway in front of a chandler's shop, he encountered a young man with black hair who was playing the hurdy-gurdy, churning out a thoroughly poignant romance. He was accompanying a girl of about fifteen who stood before him on the pavement, dressed like a young lady of the aristocracy in a crinoline, mantilla, gloves and a straw hat with a bright orange feather in it; all of these were old and shabby. In a nasal street voice that was none the less strong and appealing she was singing the romance to it's end in the expectation of receiving a two-copeck piece from the shop. Raskolnikov stopped, side by side with two or three other members of the audience, listened for a while, took out a five-copeck coin and placed it in the girl's hand. Quite suddenly she interrupted her singing on the very highest and most poignant note, as though she had cut it with a knife, called sharply to the hurdy-gurdy player: "That's enough!", and they both dragged themselves off to the next little shop.

"Do you like street-singing?" Raskolnikov suddenly inquired, addressing himself to the elderly passer-by who had been standing next to him listening to the hurdy-gurdy and who had the appearance of a flaneur. The man looked at him in timid astonishment. "I do," Raskolnikov went on, but with an air that suggested he was talking about some subject quite removed from that of street-singing. "I like to hear street-singing to the accompaniment of a hurdy-gurdy on a cold, dark and damp autumn evening, it must be a damp one, when the faces of all the passers-by are pale green and sickly looking; or even better, when wet snow is falling, quite vertically, with no wind, do you know? And through it the gas-lamps gleaming..."

"No, sir, I don't know...Excuse me..." the gentleman muttered, frightened both by Raskolnikov's question and by his strange appearance, and crossed over to the other side of the street. -translation by David McDuff

A picturesque exhibit from the museum of lost images.

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